Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Of Criminals, Stupidity and The Face Of Evil. And Of The Free Pass Given By The Mainstream Media


Dear Colleagues:

The Washington Post recently ran a terrific cartoon. It showed a man standing in the doorway of what must be the oval office. (Is the man Karl Rove?) Bush (or a figure who stands for Bush) is sitting at his desk, which is covered with sheets of paper. On each sheet is the name of one of Bush’s disasters or problems, e.g., Chalabi, WMD, Tenet, Valerie Plame, Iraq, Debt, etc., etc. His desk covered with this litany of disasters, Bush looks at the man standing in the doorway and asks, “Are we at the part yet where I stop reporting for service or one of my dad’s friends buys me out?”

There is more. In the lower right hand corner of the cartoon is a truly tiny figure who seems to be drawing (or perhaps writing). (I would guess the figure may stand for the cartoonist.) Next to the figure, in a sort of counterpoint to the caption, is “One can only hope.”

The whole cartoon is, among other possible things, a commentary on the fact that failure to attend to one’s duty, plus serial incompetence and failure in business, are not the finest possible preparation to be president. Nor, for that matter, is alcoholism replaced by right wing religious zealotry.

Bush’s policies, plus the demonstrated ineptitude of Bush and his colleagues in deciding upon and implementing them, create certain conclusions as to the nature of the man. Indeed, existing failures and “ineptitudes” lead almost ineluctably to the conclusions, as harsh as the conclusions may be. Most of the bases for the conclusions are regularly in the media, at least if one reads the serious media instead of getting one’s news strictly from the shouting boob tube or strictly from the vast portion of the print media which is lacking in depth, seriousness or intelligence. The facts or ideas that one regularly gets from the serious media, I shall not take the time or space to mention before discussing the conclusions. Points which are ignored or mentioned only rarely even by the serious media, I shall discuss before speaking of conclusions. Sometimes, however, certain devastating conclusions are inherent in the discussion of such rarely or never mentioned points.

*As said here before, it is clear beyond dispute that Bush and his cohorts were completely outsmarted by the Saddam regime, if not by Saddam himself, when it came to the crucial matter of guerrilla war. Despite our own experiences in the Philippines and Viet Nam, despite warnings from many people of post war chaos in Iraq, despite Saddam saying there would be surprises and his fourth rate army then melting away rather than be destroyed in conventional battles with a first rate army, despite the dispersal of huge centralized caches of weapons into innumerable small caches around the country (which Bush and his people might or might not have known about in advance) -- despite all this Bush and his colleagues launched a war that killed thousands or tens of thousands (often civilians) in pursuit of the chimera of being greeted with rose petals and changing not only Iraq but the whole middle east. They thought they could do this despite the region’s thousand years of autocracy, tribalism, religious zealotry, and fanatic warfare and murder. If this does not ineluctably lead to the conclusion of stupidity, I would like to know what does.

The Pentagon knows that the Iraqis planned in advance for a serious guerrilla war. Twice in about the last six months The Times has carried stories about an internal Pentagon report saying that the Iraqis planned a guerilla war in advance. But there has been little if anything else written about this -- I, at least, have never seen anything else, and the Pentagon’s report apparently has never been released. Why hasn’t it been released and why hasn’t the media, including The Times itself, followed up on the two Times articles? One possible, even probable, reason for the Pentagon’s non-release is that release would let everyone know how badly Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et. al were outsmarted by the Iraqis, and how dumb they were in their planning. We put in 125,000 or 150,000 men when the job perhaps could not have been done even by 250,000 or 400,000 -- remember the 550,000 in Nam? As for the media’s failure to follow up, who knows. All one can hazard is that this is typical media ineptitude and sloth.

*Now let us turn to the matter of war crimes, and the demonstrated willingness of the Bushies to destroy constitutional government in order to commit war crimes if they think such crimes are necessary. A number of points are already perfectly clear, and are liable to become only more and more clear as more and more is learned. Bush’s civilian lawyers in the Justice Department, the Pentagon, the White House and, I gather, the CIA, wrote legally and ethically reprehensible memoranda claiming that torture is not torture -- claiming that things we would be outraged by if done to our soldiers are not torture when done to other people. (The all time classic in this regard is the memos’ claim that torture is not torture if done for an objective other than to inflict pain -- a line of reasoning under which torture is almost never torture because the objective of torture is usually to gain information, not to inflict pain.) By despicable twisting of facts, logic and truth in order to pretend that torture is not torture, the civilian lawyers enabled Bush to say that he had not ordered or approved violations of law. (Both international law and U.S. law ban torture.)

Equally bad, even worse perhaps, Bush’s civilian lawyers showed themselves willing to destroy the Constitution by using his commander-in-chief power to override statutory law by authorizing torture if he claims it’s necessary. Such a claim, if successful, is literally the end of constitutional government. Not even Lincoln in a civil war claimed he could flout the law. Harry Truman did not claim he could flout the law when the Supreme Court ruled against his seizure of the steel mills in the Youngstown Sheet and Tube case -- a seizure the Executive claimed essential to national defense during the Korean war. Not even Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon claimed they could violate the law if Congress passed a law ordering the Viet Nam War to stop, and Nixon did indeed stop fighting when Congress finally ordered this in 1973. Only the Bush Administration claims that the military power, represented by Bush as commander-in-chief, can override the law of Congress. That way lies dictatorship -- if torture is permissible when authorized by the commander-in-chief in the name of alleged security, then why not the rounding up of citizens when he says this is necessary for national security, why not jailing them indefinitely and keeping them incommunicado for years, why not beating them, why not killing them? Exactly these kinds of things, we are all aware, have been occurring in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in undisclosed holding places abroad.

Moreover, no serious person can any longer believe that Bush, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of that crew were unaware of what was happening to prisoners. Enough has already come out to make clear that they were very aware of it, and they wanted it to occur in order to try to get information from prisoners. That is why they needed the disgraceful memos from political hack lawyers in order to give them cover, in order to enable them to say they were not ordering or approving violations of law.

It also is a virtual certainty that they knew they could not possibly go to Congress to obtain a change in the law against torture. Imagine the uproar if Congress were asked to approve torture. Maybe some benighted Southern Senators and some right wing citizens might have gone along with authorizing torture, especially because of administrations claims that torture is necessary for safety. But most people would likely have been appalled, and would have said Americans don’t do that kind of thing. As well, it would have come out that there is a huge dispute over whether valuable information can be obtained by torture, and that there are lots of knowledgeable insiders who claim little such information has in fact been gained by it in the current wars. It would also have come out that military lawyers were against it (including military lawyers in Iraq?) even though the military will supposedly suffer fewer loses if torture is used to gain information. No, Bush, Rumsfeld, etc. knew they couldn’t get Congress to change the law. So, since they wanted to use torture to try to get information, they got political hack lawyers to write despicable legal memos, pretending to authorize the non-authorizable, for an administration that did not stickle at arguments that would create dictatorship via claims that the commander-in-chief power overrides Congress.

All of this is just another lesson, along with the many others we have had in the last half century, that executive officers will never stickle at violating the law unless they are personally subject to criminal penalties which are enforced against them. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld – the lot of them have been violating laws against torture and, in so doing, have been committing plainly impeachable offenses. But because neither international law nor domestic law will be applied against them personally, nor are any members of their families in combat, they care no more for the consequences of their illegal, even evil, actions than did Johnson, Rush, McNamara, Nixon or Kissinger. And none of this will ever change until the criminal law is applied against American leaders no less than against the Milosevics of the world. The disaster of Viet Nam did not in itself prevent the disaster of Iraq less than 30 years later, did it? Only criminal penalties will work.

But how much of this does one read or hear in the media, even the serious print media? Little of it, would be my estimate. The media does talk about the political lawyers’ memos. But it doesn’t discuss that those memos were obvious bad faith dodges to give cover to Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al for allowing torture to try to get information. It doesn’t discuss that Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al were committing crimes and impeachable offenses. It doesn’t discuss that the administration was willing to destroy the constitution by making the military commander-in-chief supreme over the civilian authority, or that wars may never end so long as Executive officials are not subjected to criminal penalties. It is a fair question to ask, “Why doesn’t the media discuss these things?”

*Much of what we now know occurred raises yet again the question of whether the Bush administration demands the use of military tribunals because it knows that its own conduct makes it impossible to get convictions in civilian courts. Evidence gained from defendants who have been held incommunicado, who have not been allowed to see lawyers for two years, who have been beaten and/or water boarded, who have been tortured in other ways, cannot be used to convict them in federal courts. The administration knows this -- its lawyers may be evil, but they are not wholly stupid. The only way to get convictions, then, is to use military tribunals which are ordered not to consider how evidence was obtained. And to likewise order what has been called Rumsfeld’s handpicked group of four appellate reviewers -- at least three of whom are prominent -- to likewise not consider how evidence was obtained. Is this what the administration has done? Has it thereby shown itself willing, once again, to destroy the Constitution -- here by destroying rights in court -- in order to get what it wants -- here convictions? Will the four handpicked reviewers go along with this? One does not know the answers to these questions. But one thing can be said with certainty. The press has never discussed them. When such questions were raised previously here, one prominent journalist emailed that he was confident the press would ultimately deal with certain of them. Let us hope so. But it hasn’t yet. Why not?

Enough, then, of points antecedent to ineluctable conclusions as to what kind of person Bush is. Several traits are obvious, both from what has been said above and from numerous other matters so familiar that they need no reiteration. Notwithstanding wide disagreement with my conclusion, it is hard to see how Bush is anything but dumb. After all, Iraq has been a world class eff-up in so many avoidable ways, including in its planning, implementation, and handling of prisoners. Not to mention Bush’s well known trait, stressed by his handlers in attempting to laud him, of not inquiring into the (all important) details -- now that is really dumb for any leader.

It is also pretty plain, both from what has been discussed here and other things, that Bush is a zealot, obstinate, a man who regularly falsifies, and a right wing fundamentalist who believes that he has the greater word of God and anyone who disagrees with him is wrong and/or malevolent. Nor does he stickle at giving orders that ineluctably will lead to the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, including many women and children, for no sustainable prior purpose worthy of the phrase (we have found no WMDs, we were not welcomed with rose petals, only a fool would think we would change the middle east by invading Iraq), at giving such orders on the basis of intelligence which was obviously shaky if not altogether trumped-up, and at giving them without even a ghost of competent post war planning. And not only did he give orders that unjustifiably led to so many deaths in Iraq, but let us not forget that, possessing the greater word of God, he has been willing to very possibly condemn untold thousands to death by seriously limiting (since he cannot totally stop) stem cell research.

And let us also not forget that he and his cohorts have shown themselves willing to destroy the bases of our Constitution, and of democratic government, in order to get what they want.

To me this all adds up to one word: evil. Thus, when one looks at Bush, one is looking, I fear, at the face of evil. One need not, after all, be as bad as, say, Stalin and his gang of fellow genocidal murderers, or the maniacal Saddam and his maniac sons and colleagues, to be evil.

One reads that Bush himself divides leaders into those who are good people and have vision, and those who are not or do not. Dividing the world into people who are good and those who are not, is, strangely enough, one point on which I largely agree with Bush. But to me a good person is one who works hard, is honest, is competent at what he or she does, cares about others as well as about himself or herself, and is modest. Bush flunks most of these tests. (So do most of our top political leaders, as well as lots of top business people.)

Most people, I venture, probably even including a majority who revile Bush’s policies, would not agree with me that Bush is evil. They would say, as one hears all the time, that it is seriously mistaken, indeed horribly simpleminded or worse, to think that someone is evil just because you disagree with his policies. Sixty-five years on earth have persuaded me that this less simple, more sophisticated, conventional view is often wrong, and it is wrong with regard to Bush. There are people who are evil if judged by decent standards listed above such as honesty, diligence, competence, concern for others (versus willingness to harm or kill them for reasons that are unjustifiable or worse) and modesty. Bush fails nearly every one of these tests, maybe all of them. Withal he is a combination of swaggering arrogance and stupidity -- one of the worst possible combinations in a human being.

Is Kerry better? Should one vote for him? I hold no brief for John Kerry, and think he is no great shakes. But he does have one advantage: he is not Bush. It is commonly remarked that one of the great features of our system is that we get to elect a president every four years. (An election was held even in the middle of the Civil War.) But though realism would counsel saying it, it is not usually remarked that quite often the real and only advantage of this is that every four years we get to throw the bums out. Are they then replaced by a new crop of bums? Often. Perhaps usually. But then they can be thrown out four years later. This is good, because there is nothing that is ultimately more dangerous to a well functioning, true democracy than long entrenched bums and their ever increasing misuse of power for venal and/or evil purposes. (I leave the subject of Congressmen and Senators for another day.)

It is interesting, is it not, that lots of these points usually are not mentioned by the press, especially points like Bush is dumb, or that he does not stickle at destroying the Constitution to get what he wants, or that he might be considered evil. Why doesn’t the press mention them? Why does it generally give Bush a free pass on them? Nor do the Democrats speak of them, despite a nearly uncontrollable desire to defeat Bush. Again, why not? Why the free pass? The general silence on them seems to be the converse or obverse of the media’s rush to “hallowize” Nixon when he died, or the electronic media’s recent rush to deify Reagan. There are certain conventions which are followed by the media and politicians and all their fellow travelers, even if such conventions have little or nothing in common with the truth. Conversely, the truth -- plain honesty -- is not a convention that is followed. “Oh, too bad. Too, too bad,” as I think Lee said (or something like it) after Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. As proven by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and a host of lying and defrauding businessmen, our society is going to continue to be in real trouble, constant real trouble, until there is a higher respect for truth and less respect for lies and demonstrated incompetence.

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